Over the last few months, there has been a marked increase in aggressive rhetoric between the United States and North Korean governments. It suffices to say, that the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has gained new prominence in the news. The DMZ is one of the longest existing walls that continues to divide the Korean Peninsula. It represents the lack of consensus and compromise as well as the remnants of the Cold War’s mentality.
What is the DMZ?
The DMZ is the border between the autocratic Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). It was established in 1953 by the Korean Armistice Agreement and marks where each country’s territory ends. In fact, the Korean War is not over, officially. The war continues to divide the two countries, and the armistice is simply an agreement to a stalemate. The DMZ measures around 250 kilometers (160 miles) long and is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide.
Where did it come from?
The Korean War started on June 25, 1950 and lasted until the Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953. Even though the war lasted for around three years, it claimed the lives of over three million people. This war is one of the many conflicts that existed as a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The DMZ now, is more than a simple wall. It is a distinct break between two different schools of thought - the first focusing around the idea that that governments should work for people and that democracy is the best way to ensure rule of law. The second ideology consists of the idea that governments can act autocratically and for their own interests and it acts in favour of communism.
Given that many countries today have chosen democratic systems of government over regime rule, how does North Korea continue to exist? The DMZ is physically a source of tension between the two Korean states, but legal and sanctions-based walls also continue to isolate North Korea from the rest of the world. The answer? Allies. Both the Chinese and Russian governments aid North Korea by assisting in their nuclear aspirations.China even repatriates North Korean refugees who have escaped through their shared border. With the North Korean government, China faces a dilemma. On one hand, China has more to gain with a North Korean regime that is dependent on China and their shared border - especially given the fact that there aren’t American-supported South Korean troops on their border. On the other hand, a nuclear-powered North Korea can immediately blackmail China into potentially anti-China actions..
The wall between North and South Korea consists of more than differing government approaches, and idealistic thought. Contact between the two countries has been non-existent, and sporadic at best. Family reunions happen rarely, and North Koreans do not have access to the Internet nor any other country. Mines and military troops man the DMZ, and so this wall continues to propagate the stalemate between these two countries.
Where are we going?
The future prospects for tearing down this wall, as Reagan called for in Berlin in 1987, are not the most promising. To be frank, they’re quite bleak. Tensions between the Korean nations is as high as it has ever been. Continued progress towards ICBM nuclear missiles means that every nation is on edge, particularly South Korea. The shared history of the two Koreas mean that for more than two generations, children and adults alike, have been taught to hate the other. How can you possibly bring together two nations that share and breed hatred of each other? However, s stalemates can only last for so long. Sixty-three years later, it seems like it still holds - but for how much longer?
Check out some photos that the Atlantic reporters have of the DMZ and read facts about the Korean wall with Business Insider.
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